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What can change in the brain? Electrical synapses, research shows

long-lasting, 20 to 30 percent reduction in electrical synapse strength.

While previous studies have shown a related effect in the electrical synapses of goldfish, Landisman and Connors are the first to show that it also occurs in mammals.

"The change we describe here is similar to long-term mGluR depression at chemical synapses," Landisman said. "In both cases, communication between neurons is reduced."

The cells Landisman and Connors used in their experiments came from the thalamic reticular nucleus, a thin sheet of neurons that is part of the thalamus. The thalamus is a small region in the center of the brain responsible for relaying sensory information to the cerebral cortex, where it is transformed into memories and emotions, speech and movement.

The thalamic reticular nucleus' role as a sort of switch, starting or stopping the flow of sensory stimuli to the cortex, may implicate it as a major player in the regulation of sleep and wakefulness, the researchers said.

The pairs' work sheds important light on electrical synapses, which Connors' group discovered in the forebrains of mammals six years ago. The function and importance of these protein channels - which allow for lightening-quick signals to pass between neurons via ionic current - is only beginning to be understood. Last year, the Connors lab published research showing that electrical synapses help set the brain's master circadian clock.


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Source:Brown University


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